Lurking at the back of my personal effects drawer, behind an assortment of silk handkerchiefs, cufflinks and elastic metal armbands lays my darkest sartorial secret. Although just a narrow band of patterned material, this garment is for me the love that dare not speak its name and as such is something I rarely wear outside my bedroom.
But recently I’ve felt the need to come out of the closet so to speak, and reveal the awkward, private truth. It’s burdened me for too long now and it is time to cast off the shackles and endure the consequences, whatever they might happen to be.
So here we go. Lurking at the back of my personal effects drawer, behind the hankies, cufflinks and armbands, is a small but perfectly formed selection of … cravats. Yes, that’s right, you read it correctly. I am a fan of cravats. I mean, I really like them.
Ah … that feels so much better.
OK, you can stop laughing now. Really, stop it. I can’t help it; it’s one of those oddities of my personality that people like to reassure me I have.
Only, I don’t think it so odd; in times past the cravat would not be a cause of amusement of any kind. Think Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal, my cinematic idol; think Simon Templar at his nefarious best. This informal silk necktie was once the calling card of the spectacularly English gentleman, bestowing qualities of charm, virility and danger to the wearer. In short, everything required to bring the fairer sex, trembling, to their flawless, dainty knees.
Fast forward to the 21st Century however and donning one beyond the confines of a fancy dress party could easily lead to accusations of homosexuality or eccentricity, which means another small part of this country’s sublime history has gone the way of pith helmets, double-barrelled rifles, the empire, moustaches outside of November and duelling – some of the greatest things to be popularised by England – and I for one lament that this bastion of masculinity has been relegated to novelty status.
But it is as much the passing of what the cravat represents that saddens me as it is the glorious garment itself. You see the essence of the thing was to demonstrate that even while off duty, the gentleman observes a dress code; that he has standards, and without standards in dress, behaviour, life, man is lower than everything on earth.
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man, said Samuel Johnson.
To me the cravat represents something of that pain and putting one on, even occasionally, reminds me of what we are and what we should strive to become. And it is with this in mind that I write this post. My penchant for cravats might have hitherto been a private affair but writing about it is a quiet but public commitment to uphold the standards that Fox and Templer exemplify, as well as a small step forward in unravelling the mysteries of what it means to live a human life in the modern age.